Wednesday 7 December 2016

Dear Patricia: I beg my ex to be a better father to our suffering son

Patricia Redlich

Published 07/02/2010 | 05:00

My son is eight years old. His father and I have been separated for four years. I'm managing quite well, with great support from my family and friends. My job allows flexibility, which means that I'm around my son a lot.

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His father rings him every day and sees him for just two hours every weekend. This is his dad's choice. I would like them to have a lot more contact.

I know my son is putting on a brave face, but he feels very let down. His father doesn't attend any of his school events, doesn't take him to any matches -- basically, doesn't do much with him.

The two hours are always tight, strictly adhered to on a Saturday morning, entirely non-negotiable, and my son has recently begun to say that he feels he's the odd one out, and that he hates his "ex" dad. I try to josh him out of it, but it's getting harder and harder to do.

His father's new partner is very needy, and neither helpful nor understanding. My son doesn't like her. It's another person to contend with in a situation that is not great to begin with.

I feel that my own heart is dead, that the possibility of love is dead, because I couldn't risk the hurt again.

I would like a husband, a friend whom I could love, someone who would be caring to both me and my son, someone strong, who can cope with life.

Given my track-record with men, however, that's not going to happen. They were all weak, lily-livered and cowardly in so many ways.

If I think about the situation at all, I just want to give up. I feel I can't give it any more energy, and should settle into a pattern of having my son ready for his two-hour weekly stint with his father, and simply be grateful for that.

Even though it is clearly just squeezed in, my ex is always in a hurry to head off, if only to get the shopping done, or pick his new partner up from the hairdressers, or meet friends for lunch in some restaurant.

Try dressing that up for an eight-year-old, as someone who is very busy, with important meetings to attend. Yes, I wish my ex were dead, and then I un-wish it because it would hurt our son. So I hold on to the weak hope that maybe it will get better when he is older.

Why did I pick such a shit to be the father of my child? I thought he was kind and reliable. How could I have been so wrong? I could handle all the hurt, if only he would be good to our son.

He has the capacity to be good. He was so kind and caring to me at one time -- for the first five years of our relationship actually, and so thrilled when our son was born, so that has to count for something.

Where do I go from here? I have begged my ex to be a better parent. He says he'll take our son places if I pay. As I get no child support from him, I refuse.

I am a normal person, but I behave abnormally around my ex. He brings out the very worst in me. It takes all of my patience to deal with him and remain civil.

Patricia replies:

IT DOESN'T help to invent a father, which is what you're doing. It involves living a lie. That's not good for your son and it's clearly not good for you. Distorting reality is always a dead-end.

Unless you made a financial killing at your ex's expense, and you agreed to forgo child-support because you're now living in clover -- which I very much doubt -- your son's dad has failed at the first fence. And even if he did leave you with a small fortune, he still has to put his hand in his pocket for their joint outings. It's offensive for him to ask you to pay.

Your son may not yet know the financial angle, but he does see his father failing in terms of time and attention. Why would you distort his vision? The pain doesn't go away because you try to gild the lily for him.

On the contrary, by explaining away his dad's lack of time, you run the risk of appearing to condone bad behaviour, inadvertently reinforcing a poor role model of how a father should be. Worse, you run the risk of your son thinking that he's somehow not good enough. Because if his father is not at fault, then who is?

Children have the capacity to see things clearly. Wise parents learn to comfort, without clouding that clarity. Your son's father is not up to much. That's a reality your son has to face. What he needs to know is that the fault lies squarely in his father's court. It has nothing to do with him. No, I'm not suggesting you bad-mouth your ex. Just stop putting a gloss on his behaviour.

You are sad that the relationship didn't work out, deeply disappointed and disillusioned. It's important that you keep that unhappiness quite separate from your son's struggle to handle his hurt.

You have an ex-partner. But there's no such thing as an "ex" father. I hope that phrase is yours and not something your son is saying. Children identify easily with our despair. It's vital we stop them trying to fight our battles for us.

Don't you see? A large part of the reason you want your ex to be a better father is in order to console yourself. You would feel less disappointed and less guilty if he were a better man. So you exhaust yourself with trying to improve things.

Stop. Your ex is what he is. Accept that and you'll be able to move on.

Sunday Independent

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